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Land Use & Municipal Law

Land use decisions in California are affected by legal regulations and land values. The land use and municipal law practice at Berliner Cohen consists of experienced transactional attorneys, litigators, and regulatory specialists with extensive experience in all phases of land use and municipal law.

Land Use & Municipal Law

The group’s attorneys bring a unique perspective that can greatly assist our clients. The practice is evenly split between public and private representation in permitting, administrative actions, regulatory advocacy and litigation. We find it extremely helpful to be able to explain to public entities on the one hand, and to private parties on the other. The group’s attorneys can effectively represent clients on the public or private side of these matters.

Berliner Cohen’s land use and municipal law practice is committed to developing practical and cost-effective solutions for our clients, which include Fortune 500 companies, regional and local businesses, municipalities, governmental agencies, corporations, partnerships and individuals.

Municipal and government agencies require specialized legal expertise to implement and comply with their unique mandates. Berliner Cohen has served as City Attorney and as special and general counsel to various government agencies. The group’s legal experience in public and municipal law continues to be an important resource to many government agencies in Northern California.

The land use practice also has a strong emphasis in local and state permitting requirements and has litigated numerous land use, environmental, and condemnation cases. Berliner Cohen’s attorneys provide representation and advice in a variety of areas, including:

  • California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
  • Fees, dedications and exactions
  • Development agreements
  • Due diligence analysis
  • Eminent domain and inverse condemnation
  • Complex, mixed-use projects
  • Green development, including LEED certification
  • Subdivision Map Act
  • Sensitive habitats and properties (including hillsides and endangered species habitats, and historic structures and sites)
  • Zoning, conditional use permits, building permits and architectural and site approvals
  • Special taxes, general taxes and assessment districts
  • Brown Act, Public Records Act, political campaign and disclosure laws

Our attorneys have considerable experience in land use and regulatory approvals before local governments and have public policy experience in the whole system approach to green building, solid waste and wastewater regulation and disposal, alternative transportation technology, and climate change policy.

Click here for websites for selected local planning-related agencies in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Mateo Counties.

Public agency representation

Currently, Berliner Cohen attorneys serve as city attorney to three California cities and provide specialized representation, including litigation and CEQA work, to several other public entities, including other municipalities, water districts and a regional wastewater authority.

In our public agency representation, our attorneys have litigated dozens of CEQA and numerous eminent domain cases, including cases that required jury trial. We have also provided our public agency clients with assistance on all aspects of real estate acquisition, including friendly acquisitions and those resulting from settlement of eminent domain actions. Berliner Cohen attorneys routinely represent public agencies in land use matters, from providing advice during the planning process, through negotiation with key players in creating sound and legally defensible planning decisions through defending challenges to local planning decisions in court. Significant recent representation has included cases resulting in published opinions upholding an EIR relating to the development of a shopping center and defense of a housing element not certified by the State of California.

Private party representation

Berliner Cohen represents the private parties in all aspects of land use entitlement work. Our attorneys have assisted private entities, ranging from large national developers to individuals, in understanding and navigating California’s increasingly complex land use laws. Our attorneys routinely provide advice to private parties in negotiation of development agreements, navigation of the CEQA process, obtaining appropriate development permits for development or redevelopment activities and understanding the important, and rapidly growing, area of green development. Our attorneys are also skilled at providing due diligence analyses for developers contemplating the purchase of entitled, or partly entitled, properties.

Berliner Cohen land use attorneys are able to maximize their value to clients, not only through a thorough understanding of the law, but also through an intimate knowledge of the very unique area in which we are situated. Our attorneys include current and former city attorneys and elected officials. This knowledge of the area we serve has provided us with a unique ability to provide our clients with an understanding of local regulations, customs and politics that may impact a development. As an example, for over a decade, Berliner Cohen’s attorneys have represented the developer of San Jose’s Santana Row, an award-winning, mixed use development, involving commercial, residential and office uses in an urban setting. Berliner Cohen’s attorneys conducted extensive negotiations with the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara in order to secure the project’s original development zoning as well as several subsequent rezonings. We helped our client obtain numerous permits and other entitlements and won a CEQA suit challenging the project’s EIR. Additionally, we provided legal advice to our client in its successful efforts to defend the project in a local referendum.

For more information, please contact Andrew Faber at


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